The Future of an Emergency by Mark Weiner
R.I.P Made with Love Café and Grill, Dec 2005-June 2006

Early last month, we closed the first chapter in Emergency Communities history. We deconstructed the geodesic “dome sweet dome” eating tent that had become a landmark of post-Katrina New Orleans. We gathered up the hundreds of pallets that had served as walkways through our campsite. We even took apart the fire pit where we had relaxed at night after so many days of hard work cooking, cleaning, gutting, and rebuilding lives. From December 2005 until June 2006, our compassion and energy turned the parking lot of an off-track betting parlor into a magical, joyful place: the Made with Love Café and Grill. Now, it looks like a parking lot again.

Is our work done in St. Bernard Parish? By no means—and it’s not done elsewhere on the Gulf Coast, either. On the same day we closed the Made with Love Café and Grill, we opened two new kitchens and community centers—one just two miles down the road in a hurricane-safe facility in St. Bernard Parish, and one two hours south in beautiful, devastated Plaquemines Parish.

Still, the closing of the Made with Love Café gives us opportunity for reflection on our accomplishments so far, and our goals for the immediate and long-term future. After the unimaginable successes of our first six months—185,000 meals served, 120,000 volunteer hours logged, 78% of residents surveyed saying that we were “a big factor” or “the main reason” they were able to return home—we find ourselves saddled with new responsibilities. Knowing that we do the amazing things we did in St. Bernard Parish, it is our responsibility to try to replicate our model, first across the Gulf Coast, and then wherever in the world we are needed. If we don’t do it, who will?

For the time being, I’m plenty busy helping to make sure that our two new kitchens run successfully through the summer. Still, whenever I can, I think about where I want to take Emergency Communities next. I love hearing input from other members of the EC family, so if you have any feelings about the future of Emergency Communities, feel free to email me at [email protected]. Here are the ideas I’m working on so far:

  • We want to get VOAD membership so that we can enter disaster zones within the first few days after a disaster occurs. We already have a mobile kitchen truck, so conceivably when the next hurricane comes through, we can be serving grits the next morning!

  • EC has always had a very organic, informal structure. We want to continue that, in a way, by being a base and a resource for many independent projects. Some of these projects may be kitchens, but others may address medical, legal, or temporary housing needs in emergencies.

  • Very soon, we hope to be able to respond to international disasters. Caribbean and Central American nations might be the best place to try to start doing some good outside of the U.S. borders. If you thought the response to Katrina was insufficient, you have no idea what disaster relief can look like in some places.

  • I firmly believe that poverty is an everyday disaster. When an entire American community sinks into poverty (say, when a large factory in a small city shuts down), that community can be thrown into the kind of chaos we saw in St. Bernard Parish. Emergency Communities would like to some day grow beyond the limits of the physical disaster, and begin addressing the economic disasters that affect so many Americans. We are already learning from our experience in St. Bernard which approaches best energize a community and a local economy so that we won’t have to stick around any longer than we’re needed.

Once again, if you have other ideas about the future of EC, I’d love to hear them. Thanks again for all you’ve done for us.

With Love,

Mark Weiner
Executive Director


Click the links below to view other news articles:

New “Hope” for St. Bernard Parish by Jason Burwen
Plaquemines Parish: No Choice but to Rebuild by Chris Sheard and Mike Agresta

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2006 Emergency Communities
Design - - Ward Mulroy, Jason Joslyn